An expanding landscape
One third of Earth's surface is currently classified as desert, and this fraction is expected to increase as our planet continues to become warmer and drier in the coming years. A pressing question is how to preserve the pollinators that we depend on for agricultural and natural ecosystem sustainability in the face of these and other climatic changes.
Bees tend to be extremely biodiverse in deserts and have evolved a variety of behavioral and physiological strategies allowing them to thrive in arid environments. We have recently started examining these adaptations in bees of the Colorado and Mojave Desert regions of Southern California, with a focus on three areas: foraging activity patterns and their impacts on pollination services, floral specialization and nutrition, and energetics and thermoregulation. By understanding adaptation in desert bees, we can better anticipate how bees in temperate areas might respond to warmer and drier climates across both ecological and evolutionary timescales.
In spring 2017, we are initiating an annual monitoring scheme for assessing desert bee diet and nesting biology in the region, the goal of which is to collect a long-term dataset on how bees respond to fluctuations in floral resource availability as a function of climatic variability. We also support complementary undergraduate natural history research projects focused on the pollination biology of desert plants in the region, many of which are under-studied.